François Halma. Tooneel der Vereenigde Nederlanden
Acquired from Antiquariaat Acanthus, Utrecht
Size: 41 x 28 cm.
Shelfmark: 1792 E 15
Brown-carmine morocco, gold-tooled. The covers are filled with decorations of interlacing ribbons with foliage and flowers in the resulting compartments, made by many small tools. On both covers is a circumscription: ‘A grateful reminder of the honour bestowed on the 5th of the autumn month 1757. On the occasion of the joyful dinner, on the happy birth of Willem Zelandus van Borssele, whom the Lord will appoint to the noble seat of his father, for the benefit of country and church, is the respectful wish of A.L. Callenfels, S. Mandelgreen and L. Taillefert. D.Z’. Signed at the bottom of the front cover ‘S. Mandelgreen fecit’.
This bookbinding is a perfect example of the high quality of the most de luxe bindings in the Netherlands in the middle of the eighteenth century. It may be considered one of the most curious items of its time. The decoration on the covers reflects earlier decorations of bindings in France around 1600. This pattern was still popular in Germany and Scandinavia in the early eighteenth century, and it is found on many a Swedish craftsman's ‘masterpiece’, sometimes with an elaborate circumscription. The maker of this binding, Suenonius Mandelgreen, knew them very well: he was born in Uppsala and undoubtedly received his training in that town.
In eighteenth-century Netherlands, it was not customary for bookbinders to sign their work. An exception to this rule was the bookbinder Suenonius Mandelgreen, who worked in Middelburg. We encounter his signature four times, usually on exceptional books. But then Mandelgreen was not a Dutchman. A set of ten sumptuous volumes in the Koninklijke Bibliotheek in Belgium bearing his name, and with the addition 'UPSALO SUECUS', make this quite clear. Suenonius Mandelgreen originally came from Uppsala, in Sweden. Unfortunately, we know nothing more about his life because the Middelburg municipal archive was destroyed in World War II.
We do know that Mandelgreen arrived in Middelburg in or shortly before 1736 because that was the year in which he made his master's piece. The Koninklijke Bibliotheek purchased this volume in 2004, and now holds the only surviving master's piece from the eighteenth century. But this piece does not display the skills of a journeyman or a talented apprentice; it is the work of a master craftsman.
For this volume, Mandelgreen used no less than seven rolls and 25 different stamps, probably his own tools. He covered the volume with exquisite red morocco leather, made double capitals in tri-coloured silk and skilfully decorated the edges with ornaments and the Zeeland coat of arms. Such lavishness was not required of apprentice binders in any of the surviving guild regulations from the seventeenth or eighteenth centuries. Mandelgreen had probably already made his master's piece in Sweden in order to gain recognition. Indeed, we also encounter the use of text on the binding, as well as transecting ribbons that partition the cover, in a few extant master's pieces in Sweden. This volume was intended to impress the authorities and to let them know that a true master had arrived in their city.
What makes this such a remarkable binding is the fact that it contains a small bookcase with miniature books, that can be turned upwards. No other example is known in the Netherlands, and it can only be compared with some miniature travelling libraries, notably from seventeenth-century England. But these have bindings containing a few shelves with small books on the inside of both covers. Another difference is that Mandelgreen's binding was not commissioned by a learned traveller for his own use, but a present from three prominent citizens of Middelburg on the occasion of the birth of Willem van Borssele, the young scion of one of the leading Zeeland families. The miniature books contain very appropriate texts, like the Bible, a history of the Netherlands, and other works with an educational bias.
Mandelgreen worked in Middelburg between 1736 and 1758. He was mentioned as a printer in 1756 and 1757 in the municipal accounts and was also an auctioneer. Only a few editions printed by him are known. In 1758 he started working together with the printers Callenfels and Taillefert for the publication of the Middelburgse Courant.